Can you realistically make a living as a writer?

Mary Demuth cropped lisbon smaller I spent a good deal of time talking with a friend of mine who’s in an ancillary business alongside Christian writers at the recent Christian Book Expo. He said he’s diversifying in this economy, stressing it’s the only way to stay solvent and successful. That got me thinking about my last year of writing, and how I’ve tried to beef up my monthly income. Has my own experiment with diversification worked? Read on.

First thing I did was revamp my website and create a store. Selling books from my site hasn’t generated bucket loads of moolah, but it’s always fun to make a few bucks here and there. I use Click and Ship at USPS.com with the post office’s free flat rate envelopes to ship. It’s not as hard as I thought it would be.

I also created products on my site: 150 downloadable conversation starters to use around the dinner table and a nonfiction proposal tutorial. Those both took up front time, but since they’re e-products, they’re essentially “free” income to me. Author Randy Ingermanson calls this passive income–you can make money as you sleep. Plus, both those products are beneficial, to families and to writers. I’m currently working on another major product with some writing friends.

In addition, I spent time learning how to become a better speaker. I’m thankful for the mentoring I received at Wildfire Marketing. (They also helped me with branding, my website, the products, and so much more.) Because of their feedback, I was able to greatly improve my ability to communicate, streamline my speaking process (in terms of getting gigs), and charge higher fees.

In the spirit of diversificaiton, I also write articles. This month, I have an article in Focus on the Family magazine entitled “Under Ghana’s Sky” about my now-13-year-old son’s quest to provide water for a village in Ghana. I’ve finally broken into Writer’s Digest and The Writer, which took several years. My next goal is to write for one of the biggies like Family Circle or O. (One can dream!)

I do write books, and those advances help the bottom line. But my goal is to earn out those advances, so I’m working on new marketing ideas, and experimenting with social networking. I have seen great response so far with Twitter and Facebook, though it’s hard to measure actual sales. That’s the kind of work that you can’t quantify, and it’s frustrating not to be paid for doing it, but that’s the nature of the beast, I suppose.

And last, I mentor writers at The Writing Spa. This has been a great avenue of steadier income, plus I have the privilege of teaching others. I’m toying around with doing seminars/workshops where I live, where four or five writers come in for a weekend intensive, but haven’t fleshed that out yet.

So there you have my own experiment at diversification. I’m getting closer at making a living, but not quite there yet. It’s taken me a good eight years to get to this place. How about you? Would you mind answering the following questions in the comment section?

  • What are you doing to create income as you write?
  • What has helped?
  • What has bombed?
  • Do you feel it’s possible to make a living wage as a writer?
  • Is there anything I’ve missed? (I know writing for corporations is a viable, lucrative option, for instance.)

7 thoughts on “Can you realistically make a living as a writer?

  1. Mary,

    I have taken a similar path to yours. While I haven’t broken in to book length publishing yet, I do write monthly columns for a print magazine as well as a couple of E-zines. Actually my streams of income grew out of my desire to effectively market my writing. I started learning about business development and realized that most writers don’t get it. I translated these business principles in to a useful form for writers and Writing Career Coach was born. I primarily work with brand new aspiring writers, but some of my clients are published.

    From there I began to speak on the topic and that led to me working with Chip MacGregor and a few other writers to create The Master Seminars. These are workshops similar to the ones you’re working on: Small group, big names. Since I’m a writer I understand the takeaway a writer wants at these things, and that is what I provide.

    The key to my streams of income was I really tried to find areas that would also help me build as a writer. The work I do learning about developing a strong writing business helps my clients and blog readers, but it also helps me. The skills I learn in coordinating The Master Seminars also helps me when I’m working on my own speaking calendar.

    I really think it IS possible to make a living as a writer if someone has a realistic expectation of what that requires. I spend an hour or two each day reading. This means reading articles in magazines or online, reading novels and reading research books from the library. I also read about 2 business books a month [usually on CD when I’m driving] to learn ways to market my writing.

    I have also been ghostwriting books. By that I mean I’m taking bits of writing another has done and combined it with interviews and created a book. These have all been NF books.

    The one thing that bombed was the subscription site I tried to create. I wanted to make a clearing house of articles, content, worksheets and other things that would allow people to find everything they want in one place. I put about 3 full weeks of 14 hr days in to getting it done and developed. Then I put a few hundred dollars in to the site, marketing it, building links…and it fell flat. I had 2 subscribers and after about 3 months I admitted defeat.

    I learned that simplicity is best and a la carte is what my readers want. They want to pay for a month of coaching, they don’t want a subscription to another website.

    Finally, I found that show-don’t-tell is crucial when earning an income too. Don’t tell a client what you will do, show. That goes along with under promise and over deliver.

    A website named Odesk used to be a good place to get freelance work but I have found that they now want blogs written for $2 each etc. and working for 25 cents an hour isn’t my thing.

    Great post, Mary. Thanks for sharing with us.

  2. I’m setting out to write because I love to do it. It is my discovered passion. I do not look for it to pay the bills. Perhaps it may as time goes on, but that is not my main impetus for writing.

    That being said, bills still need to be paid and the goal is to pay those bills and leaving as much time to write as possible. A regular job gets in the way. Like you say, passive income is the best income of all. Therefore, every spare cent of mine goes into rental real-estate which provides the passive income I need to sit back and enjoy the hobby I love, writing.

    Remember, you do something because you love it. The moment it becomes a job, it no longer holds place as a passion.

    –CW

  3. I’m curious, Mary. Do you have to pay a big chunk of change for the system that delivers your downloadable e-products? Does the passive income you earn from these products pay for the service you use to send them (plus a tidy profit, hopefully)?

    Another good method to create residual income is to post guest articles at well-read blogs. Like you said in your post, it requires front time for which you don’t get paid, but you’ll receive a lot of click throughs to your own blog or Web site, new signups to your newsletter, etc. Every new visitor is a prospective client for one of your other money-making projects.

  4. Speaking engagements are my biggest source of income (and sell the most books). Right now I don’t charge a set fee, but re-evaluating for 2010.

    I used to have a lucrative freelance job with an educational publisher, but now with the economy the way it is, they do all their work in-house.

    I’ve never tried article writing. I keep meaning to, then put it off. Now may be the time to suck it up and give it a go.

    I appreciate all your hard work, Mary. Hope it keeps paying off for you!

  5. My aim basically is to build my business online and at the same time give people solutions.

    My foundation is sincere writing. I can’t say I’m a pro writer but I believe just being honest about my business will be reflected well on writing, no matter how simple it is. It started working for me.

    Sometimes I get real sloppy with my writing and sure enough I get lesser results because people feel that. So, I focus and bring quality the next time I do it.

    No doubt about it, being a writer has huge rewards. There are so many possibilities it gives you head aches! (“,)

    I noticed that when a person has grown fully, he or she tends to share it – in writing. It’s not a mystery why a lot of good entrepreneurs also become great writers. And by becoming good in writing, they get more recognition and thus, become more successful.

    Thanks for your post Mary…

  6. Great post, Mary. As you know, diversification or creating multiple streams of income is something I talk about all the time within NAIWE. I believe it’s the ideal way to make a living as a writer, for not only does it bring in extra income, it stretches us and freshens our writing.

    I absolutely believe that it’s possible to live the freelance life profitably, especially if you diversify.

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